It’s been a long time since I did a review on this blog. I didn’t really start Cinema-Rant with the intention of reviewing films as they were released, mostly because I wouldn’t be contributing anything but my opinion. Opinions, as they say, are like assholes. Everyone has one, and there’s plenty on the internet.
But I recently saw Colossal, a film that I don’t think many people have seen. It’s been out for a couple weeks now and so far hasn’t even made back one fifteenth of its budget. It appears to be suffering from it’s hard-to-comprehend plot, which makes sense because when I explain it to people I always get this reaction:
I think it’s the kind of premise that’s very hard to pitch, but I’ll try it again. Are you sitting down? Alright, here is the plot of Colossal:
Anne Hathaway plays an unemployed alcoholic named Gloria, whose reckless behaviour causes her boyfriend to split up with her. With no means of financial support, she decides to move back to her hometown, where she meets up with a childhood friend named Oscar (played by Jason Sudeikis), who offers to let her work at his bar. Needless to say, this doesn’t improve her relationship with alcohol. All good so far?
Good. She then finds out that whenever she stomps through a playground at 8:05 in the morning, a giant monster attacks South Korea.
I know, believe me. There’s really no good way to drop that bomb. Anne Hathaway controls a kaiju monster in Seoul. Check out the trailer if you don’t believe me.
Now it’s my job to explain why Colossal works, and why it isn’t actually that unusual. In fact, it’s actually a very normal story. A ludicrous plot, sure, but a very normal story.
That might have confused you a little. In case you weren’t already aware of this, as I wasn’t prior to film school, plot and story are actually not the same thing. Plot concerns unfolding events, while story concerns character development. I’ll give you a simple example: What is Titanic about?
Well, yes Kate, thank you for your contribution. Titanic does concern the famous sinking of said ship, true. Specifically, it’s about the doomed relationship that blossoms between a rich first-class heiress and a poor artistic drifter upon the titular vessel (bookended, of course, by the subaqueous search for an invaluable diamond). But that’s the plot, not the story. What is the story?
It’s pretty simple, really. The story isn’t about disaster, nor class, and it isn’t even really about love. It’s about empowerment. It’s about strength, perseverance, whichever word you want to use to describe it. The point is that Jack first meets Rose as she’s about to pack it all in and kill herself, but by the end of the film he’s empowered her to say “I’ll never let go”. She’s a totally different person at the end of the film than she was at the beginning. He doesn’t save her, he inspires her to save herself. By the end she’s doing everything she can to “stay on the ship as long as possible”. Ergo, the ship is just a big honking, breaking, sinking metaphor for her life.
And that’s the key! Which character’s change and which ones stay the same? Follow the path of the malleable one, and you will find the story. The best part is the relationship between the story and the plot. They run parallel to each other, but they also affect each other. When Jack wins his ticket to Titanic, it causes him to meet Rose and talk her out of suicide. This is the first step in her development as a character. Hence, the plot is changing the story. Much later, however, her new empowered state causes her to abandon her family and search for Jack as the Titanic is sinking. This is the story coming back to affect the plot. Back and forth it goes. You can map it out yourself from there.
Let’s do another one. What is Jaws about?
Oh my god, lady, you’re in the movie and you don’t even know.
No, Jaws is not about a man-eating shark. It’s actually about Chief Brody’s fear of the sea. He’s a city cop who’s been stationed on Amity Island, but he’s yet to go out on the water. The ocean is representative of danger, of uncertainty. All throughout the first half of Jaws, Brody is dodging risk. He constantly tells his children to avoid risky situations. In fact, it’s highly likely that the entire reason why Brody moved to the aptly named Amity Island is because it’s such a safe community, far away from the dangers of the city. When the shark appears, it simply constitutes a dangerous water-based threat that Brody cannot avoid. Once the shark kills Alex Kintner, a child who resembles his own, Brody can no longer seperate himself from his responsibilities and has to literally head out to sea himself in order to kill the shark.
Watch Jaws again with this in mind. Notice how Spielberg so often frames Brody with the ocean hovering over his shoulder, never easing up on him.
There’s really nothing special about this. It’s merely the first layer of film analysis. We can keep going. E. T. isn’t about an alien, it’s about divorce. Star Wars isn’t about lightsabers, it’s about lineage. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t about prison, it’s about institutionalisation.
Go on, you try it. Pick any movie you want and crack it open like a walnut. If it’s any good, it’ll have a clearly defined story at its centre. Have you ever wondered why some films are so basic and disposable? It’s because the filmmakers never bothered to outline what their story was and how it related to the plot. All they have is plot, and pure plot is boring.
Oh, right, I was supposed to review Colossal. Well, all Colossal does is blur the lines between the story and the plot. In fact, it pulls the story into the plot. Thus, we get a literal metaphor, appearing out of nowhere, and stomping through the plot of the film. We aren’t even really provided with a pretext, backstory, or any sort of internal logic. It’s so simple, so meta, so ill advised, and yet it’s kinda genius. It’s like an arthouse disaster-movie drama. When was the last time you watched one of those?
Gloria’s realisation that her actions cause widespread chaos on the other side of the world forces her to come to terms with the destructive nature of her behaviour. She has to understand that she isn’t just damaging herself with her obsessive drinking, but also others. Once you can see that the film is a commentary on the reverberating nature of poor choices and addiction, you’ll be able to understand the film. In fact, I think it’s crucial to your enjoyment of it.
As for the movie itself, I found the first half of Colossal to be messy. The script is clearly unfinished, to say the least. Much of the dialogue is trying too hard to be funny, and wastes a lot of time with redundancies and irrelevant tangents. It sounded, to me, like they had simply shot the first draft. I would have liked more fleshing out of the central idea and less jokey padding.
In its second half, however, Colossal takes a sharp left turn and becomes something much more enjoyable. I can’t spoil what happens, but it immediately ratchets up the tension and gives us a lot more to contemplate. The whole thing builds to a strangely satisfactory ending. I say strangely because it’s not relying on explosions and carnage, but somehow still manages to reach the dramatic pinnacle that’s required in this kind of film. I really loved the ending, and the more I think about it the more it makes the whole movie worthwhile. Some people don’t seem to have understood what it means, so just remember this as you watch it: the film is about characters being forced to come to terms with their own behaviour. That’s all I can say without ruining it.
Anne Hathaway does a surprisingly good job of playing a total wreck. It’s been hard for her to escape her clean-cut princess look. She isn’t quite as tattered in this as she was in Les Miserables, but she’s covering her face with her bangs and sporting oversized winter coats. She’s a fairly believable victim of her own neglectfulness.
Jason Sudeikis is perfectly cast, I think, in his role. He has one of the worlds most harmless looking faces, completely befitting a character who’s so helpful and giving. You’d never expect anything but kindness from him, and that’s exactly what the script has so much fun with.
Go and see Colossal. It isn’t a sequel, a remake, a reboot, or an adaptation. It ain’t a superhero movie or a Transformers film. It’s a totally fresh idea, the kind of thing that’s so hard to find these days. I saw it at the Cinema Nova here in Melbourne and I’m pretty sure it’s available all over America and Canada. As for Europe, this one might take a while to trickle out, but have a google and see if it’s screening somewhere close to you in the coming months.